Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, which branches from your lower back through your hips and buttocks and down each leg. Typically, sciatica affects only one side of your body.
Sciatica most commonly occurs when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine, or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis) compresses part of the nerve. It can also occur with the sciatic nerve is compressed under the piriformis muscles. Sometimes, a trigger point in the gluteus minimus muscle can mimic sciatica-type symptoms as well.
Pain that radiates from your lower (lumbar) spine to your buttock and down the back of your leg is the hallmark of sciatica. You might feel the discomfort almost anywhere along the nerve pathway, but it's especially likely to follow a path from your low back to your buttock and the back of your thigh and calf.
The pain can vary from feeling like a mild ache to a sharp to a burning sensation or excruciating pain. Sometimes it can feel like a jolt or electric shock. It can be worse when you cough or sneeze, and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms. Some people also have numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness in the affected leg or foot. You might have pain in one part of your leg and numbness in another part.
Some movements and that can be painful with sciatica include bending forward and lifting. In addition, prolonged sitting or pressure on the affected buttock may be painful.
If you've been diagnosed with sciatica, the first common-sense recommendation is to take a short break from any aggravating activity. This allows any irritation or inflammation around the nerve to settle down. While taking a break usually helps with pain, in order to get back to bending, lifting, and sitting without pain, you have to address the root of the issue. The best way to determine the root causes of sciatica is to have a movement assessment performed.
Sciatica is often correlated with a lack of mobility of the hip muscles and the spine muscles. There may also be a weakness at the core and gluteal muscles. In addition, poor technique with exercise and pushing through pain may lead to sciatica-type symptoms.
Once you know what your specific limitations are, you can get to work. If you have radiating pain, exercises that place your spine in a position of extension can be effective for pain relief. Prone press-ups, standing lumbar extensions, and superman poses can be effective exercises. If pain persists, receiving hands-on therapy can alleviate pain more quickly.
If you have weakness, learning how to engage muscles that are not firing well is key. Some muscle groups that should be focused on include the trunk, lower back, and hips. Exercises that can be effective during this stage include hip bridges, dead bugs, and side planks.
Once your pain has subsided and you have learned to engage your muscles, your next step should be to restore movement. The basic function of the spine is to bend, extend, and twist. Exercises that emphasize safe loading in these motions include Jefferson curls, GHD back extensions, and tall kneeling rotations.
Once you have established a solid foundation, you need strength to achieve lasting results. The best strength exercises for the back shoulder help you create tension and stability while performing compound movements. Examples include deadlifts, squats, lunges, and Turkish Get-ups. Most of these exercises can be found in our video library.
When addressed with a specialized physical therapy program, you can overcome sciatica and reclaim your active life. However, ignoring symptoms may result in a sciatica problem that doesn't go away and affects your quality of life.
If you're worried about sciatica, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to help you.
We invite you to request a back consultation with one of our specialists. This is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your sciatic pain, and foster confidence that we can help you. If you’re certain that we’re a good fit to work together, you can decide on the next step.
If you’re in pain but unsure about what you should do, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.